Cop with Cornrows Pulled from Street Duty

Dana DiFilippo, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 21, 2009

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A cop who got cornrows was ordered off the street and kept on desk duty for two days until he cut his braids off, sources said.

While dozens of black officers across the city wear cornrows, Officer Thomas Strain is white. So when the five-year veteran showed up for work Sept. 3 with the traditionally black hairstyle, it didn’t take long for his colleagues–or his bosses–to notice.

“They pulled him out of roll call and took him right up to the inspector’s office,” said an officer who asked to remain anonymous.

Reached last week, Strain declined to comment about the hair hubbub.

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The problem, police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore said, is that Strain’s superior didn’t feel his cornrows were “professional.”

Ordering Strain to chop them off had nothing to do with discrimination, added Vanore, who spoke with Inspector Aaron Horne about the incident.

Horne [who is black–Ed.] who oversees the Northwest Police Division, which includes the 35th District, is the supervisor who directed Strain to banish the braids.

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Police policy requires officers to have “clean, properly trimmed and combed hair” that doesn’t prevent them from wearing their uniform hat “in a military-manner,” Vanore said.

The policy prohibits “unnatural” hair colors such as blue, purple or green but doesn’t ban specific styles, such as cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks or bouffants.

Vanore didn’t see Strain’s cornrows, but speculated that they may have kept his hat from fitting his head in the required military manner. He couldn’t explain why black officers with cornrows weren’t ordered to get haircuts–unless they’re women, because the hair policy for female officers is slightly more permissive.

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This isn’t the first time an officer’s appearance has caused commotion in the 35th District.

Officer Kimberlie Webb in 2005 sued the city and the police department after she was barred from wearing a hijab, or Muslim head scarf, on the job. A federal appeals court last April upheld the department’s policy, saying religious garb imperils the department’s appearance of “religious neutrality.”

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Cornrows.JPG
Officer Strain before his haircut.

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